27 June 2023

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley,
a centre of ‘ritualist’ controversy
in Birmingham, is now forlorn

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was once the most important and controversial Anglo-Catholic church in Birmingham (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, is a Grade II listed former Church of England parish church, about 2 km south-east of Birmingham city centre. As I looked at the church last week, it appeared lonely and forlorn on the top of Old Camp Hill, isolated in a virtual traffic island between the roundabouts known as Bordesley Circus and Camp Hill Circus on the Middleway ring road.

During the English Civil War this was the site of the Battle of Camp Hill, or the Battle of Birmingham, on Easter Monday, 3 April 1643, iwhen a company of Parliamentarians from the Lichfield garrison tried to stop a detachment of 1,400 Royalists commanded by Prince Rupert from passing through Birmingham.

Bordesley is the real life setting of the BBC series Peaky Blinders, and home to Birmingham City Football Club’s ground, Saint Andrew’s.

Holy Trinity Church was consecrated and opened 200 years ago in 1823, and it was once the most important Anglo-Catholic controversies in Birmingham that led to its Irish-born vicar, the Revd Richard Enraght, being jailed and dismissed.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, is lonely and forlorn on the top of Old Camp Hill, between Bordesley Circus and Camp Hill Circus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Historically, Bordesley was part of the parish and union of Aston, on the edges of Birmingham. The hamlet was originally small, with only a few scattered dwelling-houses, such as Stratford Place, still standing at Camp Hill, and the Old Crown in Deritend, which I visited after visiting Holy Trinity Church last week. Both houses are of timber framework and plaster, with projecting upper stories.

Holy Trinity Church is an example of a Commissioners’ church. It was built between 1820 and 1822 by the architect Francis Goodwin (1784-1835) in the decorated perpendicular gothic style. Goodwin’s later works include Lissadell House, Co Sligo, designed for Sir Robert Gore-Booth, and the gatehouse at Markree Castle, near Collooney, Co Sligo.

Goodwin is said to have modelled Holy Trinity Church in Bordesley on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. The church was consecrated 200 years ago on 23 January 1823 by the Bishop of Lichfield, James Cornwallis. A parish was assigned out of the parish of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Aston. At first, the living was in the gift of the Vicar of Aston, and was called a vicarage from 1872. The patronage was transferred to the Aston Trustees in 1884.

The church had an exceptionally good interior with all its fittings and galleries. It was built on a conventional rectangular plan with shallow canted apse, faced in Bath stone that is enlivened by spirelet pinnacled buttresses diving the windows and with octagonal pinnacled turrets holding the corners. A larger pair flank the effectively recessed full height entrance bay under the parapeted gable.

The soffit has a pattern of ribs over the large decorated west window, and the tracery is of cast iron. The porch proper is shallow and contained within the recess, a tripartite composition with an ogee arch to the central doorway with an ornate finial.

The east end above the apse has a cast iron tracery rose. It is said the coved ceiling still partially remains, but the interior decoration, which was of a high standard for its time, has been stripped and a floor inserted.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was designed by Francis Goodwin and modelled on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Holy Trinity Church played an important in the history of the High Church or Anglo-Catholic movement in the Church of England in the 19th century.

The Revd Samuel Crane, who was the first vicar in 1823-1841, was succeeded by the Revd Dr Joseph Oldknow, who is often regarded as Birmingham’s first Anglo-Catholic or ‘ritualist’ priest.

Oldknow was buried in Bordesley and the Latin inscriptions on many gravestones offered a clue to the Anglo-Catholic traditions of the church.

Father Richard Enraght (By permission of the Principal & Chapter of Pusey House Oxford; Hall Collection 3/13, Pusey House Oxford)

Oldknow was succeeded in 1874 by the Revd Richard William Enraght, whose trials and tribulations came to a head in the ‘Bordesley Wafer Case’ were first brought to my attention in 2016 by a friend at Lichfield Cathedral, Stephen Wright.

The Revd Richard William Enraght (1837-1898) was an Irish-born Anglican priest and one of the Anglo-Catholic priests who were prosecuted and jailed in the 19th century for their ritualism. Enraght was prosecuted by the Church Association’s lawyers and jailed by Lord Penzance. He refused to attend his own trial on grounds of conscience, was found guilty under the Public Worship Regulation Act and received the maximum penalty: arrest, imprisonment and dismissal from his parish.

Enraght was born on 23 February 1837 at Moneymore, Co Derry, where his father, the Revd Matthew Enraght (1805-1882), was the Curate of Saint John’s, Desertlynn.

Matthew Enraght was born in Rathkeale, Co Limerick, where I was the priest-in-charge until last year (2017-2022); Richard’s mother Sarah was the daughter of Henry Thomas Houghton of Kilmanock House, Arthurstown, Co Wexford. Soon after Richard’s birth, Matthew Enraght moved from the Diocese of Armagh to Dublin, where he became the curate of Donnybrook and Booterstown. Richard’s mother died while he was still an infant, and his father married Maria Massey in 1843.

When Matthew Enraght later moved to England, to parishes in the dioceses of Canterbury and Chichester, Richard remained in Ireland and in 1860, at the age of 23, he graduated BA from Trinity College Dublin. He then moved to England, and in 1861 he was ordained deacon in Gloucester Cathedral by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol. He became a curate at Saint Bartholomew’s in Corsham, Wiltshire, and was ordained priest in 1862.

After three years, Enraght moved to Saint Luke the Evangelist in Sheffield in 1864. There he shared his Anglo-Catholic sympathies in a pamphlet, To The Poor The Gospel is Preached, in which he criticised the pew rent system for barring the poor from churches and criticised a ‘Bible-Ritualism’ that over-relied on scriptural authority for what is permissible in liturgical ceremonial.

He moved to a parish in Lincolnshire in 1866, and then in 1867 he moved to Brighton as curate to the Revd Arthur Wagner, the Tractarian vicar of Saint Paul’s and the ‘Father’ of the Catholic Revival in Brighton.

Wagner held Tractarian views since his student days at Cambridge. He built churches and schools in Brighton and also built 400 houses for the poor, all at his own expense. But he was criticised in the House of Commons for his liturgical practices and for appointing Anglo-Catholic priests as vicars in the five churches he had financed.

When the Brighton Gazette reported in 1873 that Father Wagner had refused to answer questions in court that would ‘involve him to breach the confessional,’ he was assaulted on the streets of Brighton. At another Brighton parish, Father John Purchas of Saint James’s was prosecuted for using vestments and the eastward position, but he refused to attend his trial or to pay the £2,096 costs awarded against him by the court.

At Brighton, Enraght shared his Anglo-Catholic views in two pamphlets, Who are True Churchmen and Who are Conspirators? and The Last Settlement of English Reformation in 1662.

In 1871, Enraght was appointed priest-in-charge of Saint Andrew’s Church, Portslade-by-Sea, with Saint Helen’s Church, Hangleton. Portslade was three miles from Brighton and Enraght continued his role in the Brighton branch of the Society of the Holy Cross, to publish pamphlets and to write letters to the Brighton Gazette. His pamphlets there included Catholic Worship and The Real Presence and Holy Scripture.

The Brighton Gazette accused Enraght of Puseyism and of trying to turn Saint Nicholas Church School in Portslade into a Puseyite school, and attacked his plans for a retreat at Lancing College. When the Disraeli Government passed the Public Worship Regulation Act in 1874, the Brighton Gazette called for his prosecution.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was at the centre of the ‘Bordesley Wafer Case’ in 1879 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Later that year, Enraght succeeded the Rev Dr Joseph Oldknow, Birmingham’s first Anglo-Catholic priest, as Vicar of Holy Trinity, Bordesley. There he found friends in two neighbouring Irish-born priests in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, the brothers James and Thomas Pollock, both graduates of TCD and both priests at Saint Alban the Martyr in Highgate.

While Enraght was the vicar, a group of cricketers from the church formed an association football team, Small Heath Alliance, in autumn 1875. This later became Birmingham City FC.

An indication of Enraght’s popularity was the attendance at the Sunday Eucharist, with a congregation of 400-500 people. Sunday Evensong with sermon regularly attracted 700-800 people. With his parish’s support, Enraght introduced weekday celebrations of the Eucharist. His practices at Holy Trinity included the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, candles on the altar, wearing a chasuble and alb, using wafers at the Eucharist, mixing water with the wine, making the sign of the Cross, bowing during the Gloria, and allowing the choir to sing the Agnus Dei.

One of Enraght’s churchwardens, John Perkins, came forward for Holy Communion on 9 February 1879, but took a Consecrated Wafer to use as an exhibit in court as evidence of the use of wafer-bread. The incident created intense horror and indignation as it became known.

Henry Philpott, Bishop of Worcester, had prohibited the actions, but Enraght refused to attend his own trial on 12 July 1879. He claimed Lord Penzance and the Court of Arches derived their authority not from ‘this Church and Realm’ but from an Act of Parliament, and so had no ‘spiritual jurisdiction over me …’

The Consecrated Wafer Perkins had taken deceptively was produced in court as evidence, marked with pen and ink and filed as an exhibit. The case became known nationally as the ‘Bordesley Wafer Case.’

In his absence, Enraght was convicted on 9 August 1879 on 16 counts. On 31 August 1879, he denounced Perkins from the altar. At the next vestry election, the indignant parishioners rejected Perkins when he was nominated as churchwarden.

A cartoon in the Birmingham ‘Daily Post’ on 26 November 1880 showing Richard Enraght entering Warwick Prison in chains

Eventually, Enraght was arrested at his vicarage on 27 November 1880 and he was taken to Warwick Prison to serve his sentence. Four other priests in England were jailed around the same time under this legislation: Arthur Tooth, Thomas Pelham Dale, Sidney Faithorn Green and James Bell Cox.

Meanwhile, thanks to the English Church Union, the Consecrated Wafer was recovered from the court and given into the care of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who reverently consumed the host in his private chapel at Addington on 12 December 1879.

During Enraght’s two months in prison, there were protests throughout England and in the US. The Revd Edward Bouverie Pusey wrote to The Times in defence of Enraght and others: ‘They have not been struggling for themselves but for their people. The Ritualists do not ask to interfere with devotion of others … only to be allowed, in their worship of God, to use a Ritual which a few years ago no one disputed.’

Enraght spent that Christmas in prison. He was released after 49 days when the Court of Appeal ruled on a technicality in the writ for committal. The prosecutor tried to have Enraght returned to jail, but the English Church Union forestalled this attempt with its own legal actions.

When an appeal to the House of Lords failed in May 1882, Enraght was liable to another term in prison, and the parish of Holy Trinity, Bordesley, was declared vacant three months later. Meanwhile, Enraght’s father, the Revd Matthew Enraght, died at Clifton in Bristol on 13 August 1882.

Bishop Philpott revoked Enraght’s licence in March 1883 and appointed another priest to the parish, against the wishes of the congregation. When Bishop Philpott preached in Holy Trinity Church two months later on 6 May 1883, the churchwardens handed him a formal protest, saying: ‘We, the truly aggrieved, have been left as sheep without a shepherd.’

However, a Royal Commission report that year marked a turning point, and the repression of ritualism in the Church of England was soon abandoned.

After Enraght was evicted from Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, he worked for the nine years in East London at Saint Michael’s, Bromley-by-Bow (1884-1888) and Saint Gabriel’s, Poplar (1888-1895). In this period of hardship, the Church Union’s Sustentation Fund supported the Enraght family.

He moved to Saint Swithun’s Church, Bintree, in 1895, and ended his ministry and life in that quiet country parish in Norfolk. He died on Saint Matthew’s Day, 21 September 1898, and was buried in Saint Swithun’s churchyard.

Richard and Dorothea Enright were the parents of seven children. Their second son, Canon Hawtrey Enraght, was ordained priest in Norfolk in 1896, and their son-in-law, the Revd Edgar Reeves, became the Vicar of Walsingham.

Brighton and Hove City Council erected a blue plaque at his former home in Station Road, Portslade, 15 years ago (February 2006) to honour Richard Enraght as a ‘Priest, fighter for religious freedom.’ Later that year, Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company named one of its new fleet buses, No 905, after Father Richard Enraght.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, was closed in 1968 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Meanwhile, Enraght was succeeded at Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, in 1883 by the Revd Alan H Watts, against the wishes of the congregation. When Watt was introduced in Holy Trinity Church on 10 March 1883, the church was crowded, and a large police forced was present. Before the service, the two churchwardens went to the vestry to loud applause, and handed him a formal protest. Watts entered the church to loud groans, followed by turmoil, and police efforts to restore order were futile. At the conclusion of the service, an angry mob followed Watts until he drove away.

The parishes of Christ Church, Sparkbrook (1867), Saint Alban, Bordesley (1871), and All Saints’, Small Heath (1875), were formed out of this parish, and part of it was transferred to the parish of Saint Basil, Deritend, in 1896. There were mission rooms in Leopold Street, Cooksey Road (1875-1907), Miles Street (1908-1939), Moseley Road and Highgate Place (1913-1921) and Warwick Street (1928-1936).

The burial ground was closed in 1873, although family graves continued to be used until 1925. Some remains were removed with the widening of Sandy Lane and Bordesley Middleway. Many gravestones were removed after the church was deconsecrated in the late 1960s.

The church was closed in 1968. There were plans to demolish the church in the 1970s and proposals to convert the building into an arts centre, but these never came to fruition. Instead, the church was used for some years as a shelter for homeless people until about 1999.

There were plans to retore the building for church and community use as the Birmingham Trinity Centre, a conference and wedding venue and the meeting place of All Nations’ Church, Birmingham.

The church was marketed for a residential conversion in 2014, but it remains empty today.

Holy Trinity Church, Bordesley, remains empty, isolated on a virtual traffic island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (30) 27 June 2023

Saint Clare Street, off Minories, London, stands on the site of the former Abbey of the Minoresses of Saint Mary of the Order of Saint Clare and the former Church of Holy Trinity, Minories (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and Sunday was the Third Sunday after Trinity. Today (27 June 2023), the Church Calendar in Common Worship celebrates Saint Cyril of Alexandria, who died in the year 444.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

A drawing published in 1907 of the west front of the Church of Holy Trinity, Minories (Edward Murray Tomlinson, A history of the Minories, London, London: by London: Smith, Elder & Co, 1907)

Holy Trinity Church and the Abbey of the Minories, London:

My images and photographs this morning are of the former Holy Trinity Church and the former Abbey of the Minories in London. Holy Trinity Church and the Abbey of the Minories, London. Minories, one of the more peculiar street names in London, takes its name from an Abbey that once stood at the north end of the street, called the Abbey of the Minoresses of Saint Mary of the Order of Saint Clare.

The Minoresses, in turn, took their name from the Latin Sorores Minores, meaning Sisters of the Minor Order of Saint Francis, the women’s section of the Franciscan order founded by Saint Clara of Assisi.

The Abbey in Minories was established by Edmund ‘Crouchback’, Earl of Lancaster and brother of Edward I, some time before 1291, perhaps as early as 1281, to house nuns brought from Spain to England by his second wife Blanche of Artois, the widowed Queen of Navarre. She was a niece of King Louis IX of France and his sister Isabella, who founded the Poor Clares’ Abbey of Longchamp.

The Abbey of the Minoresses of Saint Clare without Aldgate was known variously as the Abbey of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aldgate, the House of Minoresses of the Order of Saint Clare of the Grace of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Minoresses without Aldgate, Saint Clare outside Aldgate, or the Minories, London. It was in the parish of Saint Botolph, outside the mediaeval walls of the City of London at Aldgate.

The Poor Clares of Aldgate had a mitigated form of their Rule that allowed them to own property. They lived an enclosed life on a site often said to be of five acres, although it may have been as little as half that size.

An early benefactor, Sir Henry le Galeys, Mayor of London, endowed a chantry in the chapel of Saint Mary in the nuns’ church, where he was buried. Substantial endowments came later from figures such as Queen Isabella, widow of Edward II, Margaret, Countess of Norfolk, and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.

These royal connections gave a certain cachet to the house, attracting women of noble birth and the daughters of wealthy merchants. After the death of her husband, Thomas de Beauchamp, 12th Earl of Warwick, in 1401, Margaret Beauchamp (née Ferrers), went to live in the Abbey with three matrons. Thomas of Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester, placed his young daughter Isabel in the Abbey, but had a house right next to the conventual church and had access to the abbey through a private entrance.

The Abbess sent a gift of distilled water of roses to the Tower of London for Elizabeth of York, the wife of Henry VII, in April 1502. The Queen gave a gift of money to three nuns and a servant of the Abbess.

The Abbey suffered more than once from the plague and other epidemics, and it is said 27 nuns of the abbey died of the plague in 1515. Soon after, the convent buildings were destroyed by fire. It was rebuilt by 1520, with contributions from Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, the mayor and aldermen of London and private individuals.

One of the last abbesses was Dame Dorothy Comberford (1524-1531). At the Tudor dissolution of the monastic houses, the abbey was surrendered in 1539. The last abbess was Dame Elizabeth Salvage.

By the time the Minoresses surrendered their Abbey to Henry VIII in 1539, they had grown wealthy through renting their lands, exemption from taxation, and the plentiful bequests they had received in the Medieval period.

Following the Dissolution, the Abbey landholdings passed first to John Clerk, Bishop of Bath and Wells, Henry VIII’s ambassador to the Duke of Cleves, but the king seized the bishop’s own London residence in compensation. It also came to house officers of the Tower of London.

Later, Edward VI gave the lands to Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and father of Lady Jane Grey, in 1552. In 1554 it reverted to government use, housing the Ordnance Office and its stores, transferred there from the Tower of London.

By 1598, the abbey precinct was used as armouries and coach-houses. In 1686, the area became part of the Liberties of the Tower of London.

Meanwhile, around 1563, the nuns’ chapel became a parish church, the Church of the Holy Trinity, Minories, and this was the last religious building on the site. All the ancient monuments were removed, a gallery, a new pulpit and pews were installed, and a steeple was built.

The church became a Puritan stronghold, where both John Field and Thomas Wilcox preached. The church survived the Great Fire of London in 1666, and was rebuilt in 1706, retaining the north wall of the mediaeval abbey church. Until 1730, the church claimed the rights of a royal peculiar, outside the jurisdiction of the Bishop of London, and the right to perform marriages without licence. Some of the surviving abbey buildings were destroyed by fire in 1797.

A mummified head found in the church vaults in 1849 was said to be the head of Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk, who was executed in 1554. The head was displayed in a glass case in the vestry, but later went to Saint Botolph’s without Aldgate, where it was interred in a vault and eventually buried in the churchyard in 1990.

Holy Trinity Church closed in 1899, and the pulpit was moved to All Saints’ Church, East Meon, Hampshire. The building survived as a parish hall until World War II, when it suffered severe bomb damage. A wall remained until final clearance of the area in the late 1950s.

The coffin of Anne de Mowbray, 8th Countess of Norfolk, who died aged eight, was unearthed at the abbey site in 1964, and was reburied in Westminster Abbey.

No evidence of the abbey church or any other parts of the Abbey remains today. St Clare, a coffee shop on Minories, St Clare Street, running east off Minories, Saint Clare House and the Minories public house are all are reminders of the abbey and its name. The end of St Clare Street marks the site of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Minories.

St Clare Coffee and Bar, Minories … a reminder of the Poor Clares’ presence in this part of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Matthew 7: 6, 12-14 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 6 ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

12 ‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

13 ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’

The Minories … a public house takes its name from the nuns and their former abbey (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Freeing people from the Traps of Human Trafficking.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (27 June 2023) invites us to pray:

Healing God, may we look to you in uncertain times. Let us take the words of your Son to heart: ‘Do not fear, only believe’ (Mark 5: 36).


Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts
whereby we call you Father:
give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that we and all creation may be brought
to the glorious liberty of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

O God, whose beauty is beyond our imagining
and whose power we cannot comprehend:
show us your glory as far as we can grasp it,
and shield us from knowing more than we can bear
until we may look upon you without fear;
through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

St Clare House, Minories … a reminder of the Poor Clares’ presence near the Tower of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org